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Alberta workers should look beyond Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s platitudes: the Conservative soul is anti-union and anti-worker

Union members and Alberta workers should not be fooled by Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s feel-good words on unions. He only wants your votes. A closer look at where the Conservatives stand show they are even more anti-union than Jason Kenney’s UCP government.

O’Toole recently said some soothing words on unions: “It may surprise you to hear a Conservative bemoan the decline of private-sector union membership. But this was an essential part of the balance between what was good for business and what was good for employees. Today, that balance is dangerously disappearing.

In October last year, O’Toole said, “Organized labour helps build strong communities.”

And the Conservative Platform has some nice things to say about unions, such as “Give workers a seat at the table by requiring federally regulated employers with over 1,000 employees or $100 million in annual revenue to include worker representation on their boards of directors.”

That sounds nice, right? Do not be fooled. O’Toole’s campaign promises on unions are designed to fool workers into voting Conservative, but the Conservative soul is anti-union.

Alberta workers should look beyond O’Toole’s platitudes. The Conservative Party of Canada is anti-union. If they form government, the Conservatives will weaken the labour movement, which will mean lower wages, worse benefits, and lower safety standards for all workers.

O’Toole can’t outrun his own record with the Harper government. He supported federal anti-union legislation, like Bill C-377, which would have required unions to disclose financial information (including strike funds) in painful detail, and Bill C-525, which would have made it more difficult for workers to unionize.

O’Toole has so far refused to explain his support of these anti-union Conservative bills. (Spoiler: he can’t explain because Erin O’Toole still supports anti-union laws!)

A quick dive into the Conservative Party of Canada’s 2018 policy book shows policies on unions are more in line with Alabama, than the Canadian mainstream.

In fact, the Conservative Party’s policies on “workers’ rights” are pretty much identical as the policies of anti-union Jason Kenney.

According to their policy book, the Conservative Party “supports right to work legislation to allow optional union membership including student unions.”

Right-to-work laws are prevalent in the States and allow a worker to enjoy the benefits of a union – like better wages and working conditions – without paying union dues.

The goal of right-to-work laws are to “make it more difficult for unions to collect revenues, and thereby to weaken the labour movement.

Unions are the main counterbalance to corporate power in our society. Unions fight for better wages, working conditions, and benefits not only for their members, but for all workers. Without unions, Canadian workers would be less prosperous; workplaces would be less safe.

Right-to-work laws increase income inequality: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Is that what Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives mean when they talk about “economic freedom”?

Far-right Jason Kenney doesn’t go as far to promise right-to-work laws, even though he is a proud member of the federal Conservatives and endorsed Erin O’Toole as Conservative leader.

Federal Conservatives also want “the requirement that unions be subject to full, transparent annual financial reporting” and “allow members to opt out of the portion of their dues that are allocated” to “political donations, donations to media organizations, and to political activism and campaigns”.

This is straight out of Jason Kenney’s playbook with his notoriously anti-union Bill 32, which brings government interference into unions’ internal affairs.

The goal of Jason Kenney’s Bill 32 is to use the power of big government to intrude into unions’ internal affairs by disrupting how unions choose to allocate dues.

Erin O’Toole and Jason Kenney see eye-to-eye on government interference in unions’ internal affairs when it comes to dues.

Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party of Canada go even more hard-right than Jason Kenney when it comes to right-to-work laws. O’Toole and his party would bring this in federally, but Jason Kenney has (so far) not promised the same anti-union laws in Alberta.

Union members and anyone in the labour movement shouldn’t be fooled by Erin O’Toole’s aw-shucks demeanor and few kind words about unions. The party he leads is deeply and irrevocably anti-union.

In the words of national union Unifor, The 2021 O'Toole: New Name, Same Old Conservative.